5 Best Practices in Emergency Alerting at Universities/Colleges

It seems that campus shootings and emergencies continue to occur. The US govt has mandated that all educational institutions including schools, colleges and universities put in place emergency notification procedures to avoid such tragedies as Virginia Tech, and Illinois.  Here are 5 rules of thumb to consider as you are implementing a mass emergency notification plan for your campus. This blog is re-visited from one I wrote 5 years ago:

#1 Have an Emergency Plan & Team – Every campus typically has a multi-disciplinary team responsible for the first notifications in emergencies to the campus population and reaching first responders (police, EMS, fire, etc.). This team must put together a plan for emergencies such as fire in a lab or to deal with an active shooter or other threat. This plan must be reviewed and owned by the administration of the academic institution (be it Principal, President, etc.), the students, the faculty and operations personnel.

#2 Leverage Existing Infrastructure at the College / University – WiFi / Email / Voice – Campuses have WiFi networks, Email and Voice networks. These can be leveraged to deliver emergency alerts to the campus population in the first few minutes of an emergency. These will likely save people’s lives.

#3 Have multiple Emergency Alerting Pathways – WiFi / Email / SMS/ Voice / Pop-ups / Twitter/ Panic Buttons/  etc. – As per practice #2 – campuses spend millions of dollars on infrastructure including access control, cameras, critical and emergency notification systems. Many vendors will work with existing networks and all possible alerting pathways should be leveraged.

#4 Run through Emergency Exercises to Ensure Campus Population is Aware of Plan – It is difficult to have a plan that unpracticed. In an effort to avoid disruption to student and faculty, many campuses do not run drills. This is a mistake as practice makes perfect. Every term should include a drill of the emergency notification system of the campus.

#5 Review Emergency Plan with local Emergency Forces – Police / EMS / Fire – Finally, the first responders in an emergency will likely be police, EMS and fire personnel that must work with campus security. It is important that they be aware of the campus plan in case of an emergency and any vital early information that they may need to mitigate the risk to students and faculty be collected through the emergency team.

… Dr. Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile.

10 Enterprise Requirements for Emergency Preparedness – Revisited: #4 All Communications Layers

Any organization will have a number of communications methods with its employees. Some carry their mobile phone everywhere. Others typically work at a desk communicating through email or on the web. Others will move around the organization. Some organizations such as those serving the public in healthcare or government will have visitors and waiting rooms. Most of these waiting rooms have some sort of overhead display to keep people occupied while they wait.  Many organizations have public announcement systems that they can announce over.  The only thing we can predict is that we will not know what end users are typically doing in an emergency or critical situation. This is why it is essential to alert on all layers during critical and emergency events. It is also key to select alert/response systems that support 2-way communications. Systems such as the Amika Mobility Server will support any number of communication layers including getting out to social networks for organizations to control the messaging about their alerts. See www.amikamobile.com under AMS  products. I wrote this blog originally on September, 28th, 2012 as a http://blog.amikamobile.com/?p=59” blog and have refined it today.    …Sue Abu-Hakima

10 Enterprise Requirements for Emergency Preparedness – Revisited: #3 Physical Security System Integrations

Any enterprise will have a number of physical security systems layers. The most basic of these is typically an alarm system to protect the premises. The alarm may combine door contacts as well as motion sensors that are monitored remotely. Layered on top of this are camera systems that monitor various areas  – outside cameras, inside cameras near key entrances and exits. Another layer would be the fire system where smoke or fire trigger alarms. Another layer would be access control systems which require employee cards and facility card readers – most often at the main, side or back entrances. Indeed, in the Hospitality Sector, most guest rooms will have card readers instead of keys. A challenge for the enterprise is how to record and manage all these disparate sensor events? It becomes in some ways similar to the monitoring of systems in complex environments like aircrafts. How often do you collect event information? Do you collect continuously or only when critical events are triggered – someone moves in front of the camera at 3 am when the facility is supposed to be vacant? Or someone uses an access card that is on a watch list? Is there shift work with people on premise at odd hours?  Are there enterprise risks that need more physical security and alerting – are there panic button requirements? Are there lockdown requirements? Depending on the business the enterprise is in, careful planning has to go into both the layers of physical security that are required as well as the critical alerts and response communications that is required when alerts trigger. See www.amikamobile.com under AMS products. I wrote this blog originally on June 8th, 2012 as a  http://blog.amikamobile.com/?p=58” blog and have refined it today. ..Sue Abu-Hakima

10 Enterprise Requirements for Emergency Preparedness – Revisited: #2 ANY network

An enterprise typically has a myriad of networks including: a LAN for its desktops and servers;  a WiFi network for its users to wander the facilities with laptops, ePads and Smartphones that sometimes browse WiFi; its VoIP network that is linked to some carrier network for inbound/outbound calling; a Public Address (PA) System for announcements; a Paging network; an email system; social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn; camera monitoring networks; access control systems; fire monitoring systems; etc. It is thus no surprise that an organizational critical and emergency system cannot assume that all users can only be reached through SMS, email or Voice.  As such, in an emergency, First Responders agree that the enterprise needs to leverage all its networks to deliver critical and emergency alerts to targeted groups or en masse paying special attention to all the personal mobile devices people are using today. See www.amikamobile.com under AMS products.  I wrote a version of this http://blog.amikamobile.com Amika Mobile blog entry in 2012 and it essentially still applies today. If anything, we have more social networks to connect on and people are relying even more on their mobile devices as their primary communication tools.   ..Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile

10 Enterprise Requirements for Emergency Preparedness – Revisited: #1 ANY device

As more and more enterprise users bring their own devices to work,

Mon Jul 07 16:39:58 EDT 2014

referred to as  BYOD (according to  Gartner). BYOD has to be part of the set of devices that Critical & Emergency Notification Systems Alert to.  At any one time, a user in the enterprise can be addressed by anywhere from 3 to 6 devices – desktop, desk phone, business mobile phone as well as digital tablet, laptop and possibly a second personal mobile phone. As such, the emergency alerting system needs to address all these user identities. Typically, the mobile devices are addressed by hard-coding email addresses and phone numbers in contacts databases. This is certainly not good enough as users cannot be tethered to their desks. This is why auto-discovery of user devices is essential for a practical emergency alerting system.   See www.amikamobile.com under AMS products.  I wrote this http://blog.amikamobile.com/?m=201205” blog originally May 4th, 2012 and have made essentially no modifications as this all still applies besides referring the reader to the  AMS.  ..Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile

Workplace Violence – Top 6 actions to take – #6 Recovery – taking back the workplace

Recovery of the workplace after an incident is by no means a simple process. Depending on how violent the incident is – from a minor physical injury such as a slap, a punch or a kick to a major one such as someone being stabbed, shot or even killed, there will have to be a set of policies and procedures for the workplace and teams at work to heal. Five things immediately come to mind to help heal as supported by  OSHA: Time off – as long as they need – some employees will recover and some will not and will need to go on extended leave; Change of offices may be needed depending on the violence of the act, to another  town, city, or even state; Recognition of the terrible incident with a memorial or plaque or garden to honor any loss of life; Allowing people to grieve  since people will react differently; Allowing people to heal and being sensitive to their process; Re-educating people on the code of conduct in the workplace and learning to recognize individuals and situations that will boil over before it is too late. The length of time to recover will be dependent on the individuals and their ability to cope. It is essential to have policies and procedures in place to deal with workplace violence which is sadly becoming so prevalent today.  ….Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile

Workplace Violence – Top 6 actions to take – #5 Reporting

Reporting workplace violence can take many forms. According to OSHA, a zero tolerance policy that is clearly communicated to employees is best. Minor workplace incidents need to be observed and reported. A single workplace incident of verbal abuse or bullying (goading and embarrassing a fellow employee) may occur regularly before it escalates or boils over to a major act of physical violence. This is why all incidents should be reported to a manager or team member as soon as they occur. A zero tolerance policy also means that someone will be escorted out by security if they harass or bully anyone in the workplace, which in itself should help as a deterrent to avoid major escalation. If a major incident occurs such as assault, including sexual or physical harassment, then it should be immediately reported to the authorities following the policies and procedures of the workplace, so that the individual may be removed from the workplace and charged by authorities.  The policies and procedures in the workplace must include protocols if a major act of violence takes place. Sometimes, these policies should require a lockdown in combination with 911 calls to police, if a shooting or stabbing is occurring. Sometimes, these policies require panic alarms (from those on employee mobiles or desktops or from wall-mounted ones) that alert security teams in the building to the location of the employees under threat, and these teams will determine when to call 911. Very often in the workplace, employees do not want to report harassing incidents or assaults as they are embarrassed or concerned about retaliation. It is essential to ensure employees feel safe in reporting such incidents to someone on their team or to their managers. It is also very important that the managers or team members take these reported incidents seriously, and report them up the chain so that they may be addressed and tracked, to ensure that smaller incidents do not result in a major violent act.  ….Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile

Workplace Violence – Top 6 actions to take – #4 How Technology Helps

Many recent events at the workplace have escalated into violence with knives and shootings. In the US, every year according to OSHA  there are a staggering 2  Million incidents reported. Recently, in  Toronto CBC reported that  an employee was being fired when he then attacked his colleagues and stabbed 4 of them within minutes. Similarly, in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, a man shot 4 of his colleagues leaving 2 dead and 2 critical. It is essential for security officers in the workplace to think about issues in advance and bring the C-suite in to help ensure that there are technology capabilities in the workplace to help limit the violence. Three main technology areas come to mind: Panic buttons, Lockdown technology and critical and emergency communication software,  Panic buttons can be on mobile phones for employees or those at risk, for front office staff employers can consider desktop, wall-mounted, or even foot pedal panic buttons. Panic buttons can also be linked to technology that triggers lockdowns of all doors and windows in critical or emergency situations. Finally, mass communication capabilities quickly alert employees on all communication layers and keeps them informed with security team 2-way communications as the situation is diffused and control is taken back from the attacker(s).    …Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile

Workplace Violence – Top 6 actions to take – #3 Healthy Workplace

Through my experience leading teams for decades and according to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are 5 key factors in ensuring a healthy workplace for employees. These factors help mitigate the risk of workplace violence. First, empower employees to control their workplace environment and careers with open dialogue and take their suggestions for improving the workplace. Second, encourage a healthy work-to-life balance with flex hours, vacations, and  leeway if they need to care for loved ones. Third, facilitate career development and goal setting with access to continued education and tuition reimbursement.  Fourth, encourage a healthy and safe workplace by encouraging employees to maintain a good fitness level possibly through workplace team sports and  help them work through stress if possible and refer them to professional medical or counseling if their personal situations warrant.  Finally, employees should be recognized for outstanding performance and celebrations of success should be encouraged.   … Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile

Workplace Violence – Top 6 actions to take – #2 Education

A key aspect to reducing workplace violence is education. There are many resources to look at on the web including some comprehensive ones from the Office of the Safety and Health Administration or OSHA. There are some rules of thumb in terms of making employees aware of potential violence and to prevent escalation. Employees need to be aware of any form of harassment and be provided with confidential methods to report it. Make sure everyone knows what the expected code of conduct or workplace behavior should be – role playing with a safe external third party running it to ensure people can recognize harassment may be worthwhile. Make sure work teams get along and differences are accepted. Be ready to get HR or an external consultant involved if any behaviors seem off or begin to escalate. If an employee needs to be removed, ensure adequate security is provided to avoid recent incidents like the workplace shootings or stabbings in Toronto and elsewhere.  …Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO